By the end of this month, Robbie Wilson and Matt Davidson plan to start selling to-go cocktails from their Northwest Portland bar — whether the state permits it or not. This morning, Wilson and Davidson, owners of the cocktail bar Botanist, posted to the bar’s Instagram account that it would begin offering cocktails to-go on November 25 — despite the state’s ban on takeout cocktails. The post describes the sales as “a civil disobedience protest of our state’s constitution,” a last resort after months of phone call and email campaigns, social media campaigns, and petitions calling for the legalization of to-go drinks. In Wilson and Davidson’s perspective, the looming winter, lack of stimulus, and slowdown of business has made the need for to-go cocktail sales absolutely essential; if the state wouldn’t let them do it, they’d do it themselves as a matter of survival.
Just a few hours later, Gov. Kate Brown announced that Oregon would be closing its bar and restaurant dining rooms again for two weeks at least, extending that restriction to four weeks in Multnomah County. Wilson and Davidson hopes the added pressure will encourage state legislators and Brown to prioritize the legalization of those sales, especially considering the mandatory onsite service ban.
Unlike the other states in the country, Oregon’s constitution is written in a way that makes takeout cocktail legalization a matter for the state legislature. However, the legalization of to-go cocktail sales hasn’t been prioritized by state representatives or the governor: despite the fact the legislature convened for special sessions multiple times over the summer, the amendment the state’s constitution never hit the agenda.
“We barely made it through summer, those of us who did,” says Davidson. “The can got kicked down the road through special session after special session and we never got it to the floor.” For the two of them it’s not just about the lack of to-go cocktail sales, but also the lack of communication from the state. “There’s been no indication to any business that any of this is going to happen. And businesses cannot operate with no timeline.” Davidson says.
Botanist would use At Your Door, the local spirits and delivery service the bar created earlier this year, to deliver a line of cocktails directly to people’s homes. Plans are still in development, but they’re flirting with the idea of smaller sparkling cocktails, as well as larger bottled cocktails for things like manhattans and martinis, which would come pre-diluted, ready to be stored in the fridge or freezer. Most of the drinks would use local spirits; the co-owners heavily emphasize their desire to support the local industry as a whole with this. Down the line, should things be legalized, they’d want to have other bars’ to-go cocktails available at their rooftop market.
When asked if they were worried about possible legal repercussions, Davidson was direct in his response: “Fuck yeah.” Wilson adds that he’s worked in the bar industry for over a decade, and that losing it is a terrifying prospect. However, without action, there might not be an industry left. “Bars and restaurants are just the first dominos to fall,” he says. “Wineries, fisheries, farms, breweries... they’ll all come down the hatch.”
Davidson says that it’s not an effort to grandstand or to “spit in the face” of local legislators who have been working hard and who understand the gravity of the situation. “This is saying to those who don’t understand it and haven’t been pushing the issues, that we are out of time,” he says. And the pair agree that if the community pushes back against it, they’ll listen and reorient.
Similarly, if state officials announce bringing to-go cocktail legalization to the table of the next special session, the team is willing to hold off. Still, they add that they’ve spoken with other bar owners who are on board. “It’s an alarm clock,” says Davidson. “We cannot shut down and open up again, we can’t just keep pulling in PPP and surviving month after month of deferred rent. We need a viable option in planning our businesses.”
Read the full open letter here:
- Botanist [Official]
- Botanist’s open letter [Official]
- Oregon’s Fight for To-Go Cocktails, Explained [EPDX]
- Oregon Pauses Indoor and Outdoor Dining at Restaurants and Bars for at Least Two Weeks [EPDX]
- Botanist Bar Owners Create a Homegrown Delivery Service for Distilleries [EPDX]
- Pearl District Cocktail Bar Botanist Is Opening a Rooftop Marketplace for Restaurants [EPDX]